(Those are the Chinese characters for "best" and "eva." Photo courtesy of Strikeforce.)
The idea of a spiritually grounded Phil Baroni kind of freaks us out, to be honest. But the NYBA you knew as a young, brash, self-destructive middleweight is gone, and in his place is an older, wiser, fired-up welterweight who won’t quit until he’s a world champion. With his fight against Joe Riggs scheduled for the main card of Saturday’s Strikeforce show, we called Phil yesterday to chat about sex, steroids, destiny, being reborn at 170, and what he really wants to be remembered for…
CAGEPOTATO.COM: So I’ve been watching some of your recent interviews — do you really believe that not having sex helps your athletic performance? I thought that was just some bullshit myth.
PHIL BARONI: Yeah, I believe it. I know it to be a fact, man, especially when it comes to taking punches. You take punches better when you abstain from, ah…punching your own loads out.
How do you explain the science behind that?
Aw man, I’m not a scientist. It makes you fuckin’ mean, I’ll tell you that much. I’m lean and mean right now. It fuckin’ works. You don’t think so, then don’t do it — you’re not a fighter anyway, so who cares?
Don’t you think your wife’s needs should come before your job?
I’ll put it this way dude, I more than make up for it when I don’t have a fight. My wife could use a break anyway. It was a lot easier when I wasn’t married; you could just bring ‘em in the room, one after another, line ‘em up, like when I was in Japan. But I’m married now, so the wife needs a break once in a while.
You’re fighting Joe Riggs on Saturday night. He told us that you might be using steroids right now. Have you ever been “pharmaceutically enhanced”?
No. Never. I wrestled in college and we got tested — there was no time in my life when I wasn’t being tested. I don’t do stuff like that. I don’t need it. Being big and strong has never been something I needed help with.
But you did tell NerdSociety.com a couple months back that to get girls, nerdy guys should do steroids, lift weights, get contacts, go tanning, and stop playing all those gay fucking video games. Do you stand by that advice?
Yeah. Those fuckin’ nerds playing video games aren’t gonna be fighting in the UFC, so it doesn’t matter if they do steroids, because they’re not cheating anyone. They’re cheating themselves by being fuckin’ computer geeks, playing fuckin’ videos games all the time. They’re cheating themselves out of life. Maybe a little testosterone would help them, they’re obviously fuckin’ low on it naturally. I’m not advocating it to kids, I’m advocating it to geeks. You’re 20 years old and you’re still playing fuckin’ video games and going on Internet forums, you gotta change something, dude. Something’s gotta fuckin’ give.
The last time I watched you fight live, it was at EliteXC: Primetime back in May, where you lost to Joey Villasenor. You got very emotional during the press conference afterwards, because it was your third straight loss, and it maybe felt like the end of the line for you at middleweight. You must feel born-again at welterweight. Tell me a little about how it feels to be back on the upswing, and what you’ve done to turn your career around.
It’s a night and day difference. I match up a lot better physically with these fighters at welterweight, and that means a lot in this sport. I just wish I would have known I could make this weight and stuff like the Blood Type Diet years ago. But who cares about the past. The past is a canceled check; the past don’t matter, you know? And the future is a promissory note, there is no future if you don’t take care of now. Now is cash in hand. Now is what I care about, and now is what I’m focused on. So I don’t really want to talk about the past, and the future doesn’t exist. Right now, I’m focused, I’m ready, my weight’s good, and I’m ready to beat Joe Riggs. All roads lead to Joe Riggs. I gotta take this guy out. He’s standing in my way, and I can’t think of anything else but getting my hand raised and winning this fight.
What do you really hope to accomplish in Strikeforce’s welterweight class?
I hope to be the world champion and the best fighter in the world. And I’ll take a step in that direction by beating Joe Riggs. I wasn’t happy with just being a professional fighter, being in the UFC, being a prize fighter — a lot of guys are. I wanted to be champion, I found out things weren’t working for me at 185. I’d beat some really great fighters, I’d lose to some fighters that maybe weren’t so great; I just wasn’t breaking that hump every time out consistently, so something had to change. I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to be content with being in the major leagues and just being a player — I wanted to be the All-Star, I wanted to be the best, I wanted to be the MVP.
So I had to make some drastic changes, and that meant losing 15 pounds of muscle, changing my diet, changing all my habits, becoming a mixed martial artist and a professional athlete, being motivated and focused, and working on my weaknesses — doing jiu-jitsu with Robert Drysdale, doing hundreds of thousands of kicks on the Thai pads with Shawn Tompkins, training at Xtreme Couture with Jake for strength and conditioning, improving my boxing so I can use my footwork and speed to not get hit, and make people miss and make them pay. Boxing rather than brawling.
So I made changes skillwise, on the technical aspects of MMA, and I made changes on my body and my diet, and I’ve also made changes spiritually. I don’t want to get into it, but I go to church and I found God, I got married, I settled down. I exhausted my body in preparation for this fight, and I cultivated my spirit, so I’m the best that I’ve ever been. I’m ready to go out there and win, and I’m going to be really tough to beat at 170 pounds.
Is ending your career in the UFC still a goal of yours?
Me and Dana White are great friends, I’m great friends with Joe Silva, I always keep in touch with those guys, and I feel like I have unfinished business left in the UFC. I never performed the way I should have, and that had to do with being in the wrong weight class. Money has a lot to do with it — I have to think of my future — so it depends. I’m definitely open to it, I’m a fighter that they’ve always liked and supported, so it could happen, but I’m very happy at Strikeforce right now. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because winning this fight against Joe Riggs is the only thing that matters to me right now. I gotta beat this guy, and I will beat this guy. My problem in the past was I always looked ahead of myself; I always thought about the next fight, and how I was going to get the title. Now I have pinpoint tunnel vision, and I’m heading towards Joe Riggs like the L.I.E., and I’m blowing right through this kid.
If you’re remembered more for being a flamboyant, outspoken fighter than for being a really good or successful one once your career is over, will that be okay with you?
No, that’s why I dropped to 170. I’m not afraid to speak my mind, what you see is what you get, and I say and do things that maybe I shouldn’t, but I want to be remembered as a good, tough, gritty 170-pound champion that never gave up, that fought back when all the odds were against him, when he was told to retire, written off many times, and all of a sudden he found his niche and won world titles. I want my 185-pound career to be forgotten, or at least just be remembered as someone who really turned his career around and became a champion. A fighter who never gave up in a fight, never gave up in his career, and persevered. What matters is getting up every day and looking in the mirror and knowing you gave it your all. And I want my kids to be proud of their father and set an example for them.
Do you have any specific predictions for your fight, or any other fight on Saturday’s card?
I’m gonna win my fight. And whether it goes one or three rounds, at the end my hand will be raised. I did the work, I deserve to win, and it’s my destiny to be champion. I was born to be champion. The way I think about it, if I was the champion at UFC 36 or whatever back then, I’d probably be shot right now. I wasn’t mature enough. I wasn’t ready to be the champion, mentally or spiritually, and now I am. It’s time for me to accomplish my goals and do what I was born to do — to be a champion.